Questioning the intelligence of smart meters

At first blush, smart meters might sound like an ideal addition to the Yukon's energy system.

At first blush, smart meters might sound like an ideal addition to the Yukon’s energy system.

The high-tech devices automatically send out their readings to utility companies, putting meter-readers out of work, but saving energy customers money in the long run.

They would also allow the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Company to charge different rates at different hours of the day. This would entice energy users away from peak hours and therefore limit the amount of diesel the territory has to burn during times of high demand.

A battle is brewing to the south over BC Hydro’s plan to implement a smart-meter program, and it doesn’t sound like the Yukon will be getting smart meters any time soon.

Yukon Energy is the territory’s largest energy producer but it doesn’t directly distribute power to all that many residents.

“We have fewer than 2,000 customers and to install smart meters for such a small group would be pretty darn expensive,” said spokesperson Janet Patterson.

“So it’s not something we’re looking at.”

Yukon Electrical has no plans for smart meters either.

“Here in the Yukon, we don’t even have AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) meters. We still go door to door every month and read meters,” said spokesperson Laura Carlson.

“We have gone to the utilities board to ask to have AMR meters installed and the last time we requested that, it was not approved.”

Upgrading to the AMR readers, much less the higher -ech smart meters, would be an expensive endeavor, she added.

“Any time you’re doing that kind of an upgrade, those costs get passed along to the ratepayer.”

The territory is currently looking into implementing new legislation to allow net metering in the territory.

Homeowners and businesses can create energy, using solar panels for example, and feed that energy back into the grid.

Smart meters would not be required to take part in this program, should it come to pass, said Carlson.

“It’s just your meter running in the other direction,” she said. “Net metering is something that an individual can do, and what it would do first is offset your own consumption before feeding back into the grid.”

Yukon Electric would work with individual customers interested in net metering and probably look at installing a separate meter to record any power that was fed into the system.

So at this point, smart meters are not being discussed in the Yukon.

And, according to Steve Satow, that’s a good thing.

Satow is the president of the StopSmartMeters.ca Society which, as its name suggests, isn’t very happy about BC Hydro’s plans to install smart meters across the province.

When smart meters were installed in Ontario, peoples’ bills doubled in some cases, “without any increase in usage, because smart meters are far more accurate,” he said.

“This is the case in many places in North America where these things have been introduced.”

And because the intent of time-of-use billing is to try to get people to use power at different times of the day or night, the same amount of electricity is still being used.

“There’s no conservation value or very little,” said Satow, although he did concede that there might be some conservation value if peak use forces energy companies to get extra energy from dirty sources like diesel, as it does in the Yukon.

According to BC Hydro, the installation will cost $930 million, but will generate $1.6 billion in financial benefits over the next 20 years.

Satow doubts those numbers and, even if they are true, doesn’t think the savings are worth it, especially since $70 million of those new efficiencies come from laying off meter readers.

The anti-smart meter group has a whole range of other concerns around the high-tech devices.

They don’t like the undemocratic way the program has been implemented, and compare it to the ill-fated implementation of the HST.

There are also health concerns, since the smart meters communicate wirelessly, and admit electromagnetic radiation.

The World Health Organization has recently designated electromagnetic radiation as a possible carcinogen.

But coffee is also on that list of possible carcinogens. And it would appear that people receive far more electromagnetic radiation from cellphones and wireless networks than would be emitted by the meters.

“No one denies that this radiation is harmful,” said Satow.

“The question is how much is dangerous. We think it would be a good idea to wait until there’s more information about this before we install all these things.”

Another concern is privacy and security.

Because smart meters are so sensitive, opponents are concerned they could be used to spy on homeowners.

“Studies have been done on smart meters in Germany, which show that it is very easy to detect patterns of usage from these meters,” said Satow.

“You can see when people are at home, and because of the different frequencies at which these different appliances operate, you can tell what appliances are being used.”

Satow is concerned that because this meter information is being emitted wirelessly, it would be easy for someone to intercept it and use it to nefarious ends.

StopSmartMeters.ca is currently collecting names of those opposed to BC Hydro’s plan for when it launches a petition.

The initiative would include draft legislation to force a recall of smart meters.

So far, nearly 4,000 names have been collected.

If the petition doesn’t work, Satow has a backup plan.

He’s built a wooden structure around his conventional meter at home, he said.

“If they try to change it, they’ll have to take it down and I’ll charge them with destruction of private property.”

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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